Women's T20 World Cup: A Breakthrough Tournament

Read how the recent Women's T20 World Cup in Australia inspired millions across the globe and captured the attention of a new generation of cricket fans.

In some respects, the Women’s T20 World Cup was business as usual. As they had done on four of the previous six occasions, Australia walked away with the silverware once more. However, that is perhaps where the similarities with previous editions stop.

2020 was no ordinary tournament. For just over two weeks, more eyes than ever were focused on the women’s game. There were upsets, tight finishes and, as always, the odd blowout. Rain interruptions, washouts and controversial DLS-influenced results. The world’s best sides continued to inspire the next generation, while newcomers and relative minnows won the respect of not only their own nation’s fans, but that of the wider cricketing public. At iconic Australian venues, records and hearts were broken, new friendships and memories made. 

Simply put, this Women’s T20 World Cup was like no other that had gone before. Like the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup – hosted and won by the United States – it was a breakthrough for women’s sport. If cricket manages to even half replicate the success enjoyed by women’s and girl’s football off the back of their marquee event, those in charge will be delighted.

When the action began, fans were treated to an immediate shock result as tournament favourites Australia were beaten by India at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Alyssa Healy demonstrated some excellent early form with an impressive 51, but Shikha Pandey (3/14) and Poonam Yadav (4/19) blitzed through the rest of the Australian batting line-up to earn their side an unexpected victory. India would go on to dominate the group stages, winning their remaining three games against Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Bangladesh. In those same fixtures, 16-year-old Shafali Verma announced herself to the world with a string of consistent performances at the top of the order, posting scores of 39 (17), 46 (34) and 47 (34) as India topped Group A.

Australia quickly bounced back from their disappointing opening day defeat and rediscovered their star quality, claiming three victories against the aforementioned opposition as they too stormed into the semi-finals. However, while they secured a comprehensive 86-run victory over Bangladesh thanks to a stunning 83 from Healy and 3/21 from Megan Shutt, their other two triumphs were far from straightforward. The hosts were pushed all the way by a resilient Sri Lankan side and, at one stage, found themselves 10/3 inside four overs. To their relief, timely knocks from skipper Meg Lanning (41*) and Rachael Haynes (60) helped them over the line to a 5-wicket win with three balls to spare, but it served as another reminder that this Australian side were by no means unbeatable.

Their final group game against New Zealand – from which the winner would qualify for the knockout stages – was filled with yet more drama. Lanning’s side batted first and posted a competitive 155/5 thanks to Beth Mooney’s knock of 60, but disaster struck when Ellyse Perry was forced off the field midway through the second innings with a serious hamstring injury, massively disrupting their bowling plans. Fortunately for Australia, Georgia Wareham (3/17) produced a fantastic spell in the middle overs and Shutt bowled brilliantly at the death (3/28) to help their side claim a narrow four-run victory, despite the best efforts of Katey Martin (37*).

In Group B, England’s campaign began in a similar fashion to that of their oldest rivals, as they suffered a surprising defeat to South Africa. Nat Sciver’s 50 from 41 balls was the only innings of substance as England stuttered their way to 123/8, a sub-par total that was eventually chased down with two balls to spare by South Africa, thanks largely to an 84-run partnership for the second wicket between Dan van Niekerk (46) and Marizanne Kapp (38).

England, who won the first ever tournament in 2009, had no such difficulty in the remainder of their group games, though. Despite having been 7/2 at one stage, records tumbled in their comprehensive victory over Thailand as Heather Knight and Sciver produced England’s highest ever partnership (169) in women’s T20 cricket. In the process, Knight smashed her maiden T20 ton, finishing unbeaten on 108* from 66 balls, to become both the first woman to score a century in all three formats, and the first England international – male or female – to achieve the same feat.

Further half-centuries for Knight (62) and Sciver (57) in games against Pakistan and the West Indies respectively helped record two more convincing wins, while England’s young spinners in particular were doing a brilliant job of backing up the batter’s efforts. Sophie Ecclestone, a left-arm spinning T20 veteran at just 20-years-old, proved once again why she is held in such high regard, taking a total of 8 wickets in the group stages at a staggering average of 6.12 and an economy rate of just 3.23, while Sarah Glenn chipped in with 6 wickets of her own. Elsewhere in the squad, Anya Shrubsole’s pace bowling proved as consistent and effective as ever as she too took 8 wickets.

Much like England, South Africa followed up their first game with a dominant performance against Thailand – a match they won by 113 runs after Lizelle Lee struck an explosive 101 from 60 balls – and another strong showing against Pakistan. West Indies and Pakistan registered just one win each, while an inexperienced Thailand side were robbed of what might have been their first ever T20 World Cup win in their contest against the latter. The tournament debutants were well-positioned, having scored 150/3 from their 20 overs thanks to superb knocks from Nattakan Chantam (56) and Nattaya Boochatham (44), only for rain to bring proceedings to an early end.

For Thailand, the experience and knowledge gained from featuring in the T20 World Cup cannot be underestimated. The opportunity to bond with and learn from such talented players, as well as being exposed to performing on the biggest stage of all, will prove invaluable as they continue their development as a cricketing nation. Regardless of what the results and standings suggest, Thailand’s campaign – the culmination of a 13-year journey filled with hard work and dedication – was a resounding success.

The semi-finals arrived, but expectant fans were not treated to the two exciting clashes between the four remaining cricketing powerhouses as they should have been. Instead, the rain played a huge part in determining who would make the final of ‘The Big Dance’. It was obvious almost a week in advance that both ties – which were set to be played back-to-back at the SCG – were going to be hit hard by the weather, but a lack of foresight or logical thinking on the tournament organiser’s part meant that there was no reserve date in the calendar.

In the first of the day’s two fixtures, England crashed out of their semi-final with India without a ball being bowled. It was gutting to see a side that had played so well have destiny taken out of their hands by persistent rain but, in truth, England only had themselves to blame. Their opening round defeat to South Africa proved costly, as India progressed to the final courtesy of their better group stage record. Somehow, just hours later, nature conspired in such a way that play was possible in the day’s second fixture between South Africa and Australia. Had it not, then the latter would have been dumped out under the same circumstances as their old enemy.

Australia batted first and made 134/5 from their full allocation of 20 overs, thanks largely to skipper Lanning’s anchoring 49*, before the rain struck again. DLS intervened, and suddenly South Africa required 98 from 13 overs, a calculation that appeared slightly harsh on the side batting second. Regardless of the context and circumstances, Shutt (2/17) and Delissa Kimmince (1/16) starred with the ball as Australia held off a late charge from Laura Wolvaardt (41*) to secure a narrow 5-run victory over a devastated South Africa outfit.

And so, the final. India vs Australia, for the right to be crowned T20 World Cup champions. Five overs in, after Australia had raced to 47/0, it became obvious that this meeting would not play out in the same way it had done just over two weeks earlier. In front of a packed-out MCG crowd of 86,174 – the highest ever attendance for a women’s sporting fixture in Australia, and the second-highest for a women’s sporting event globally – International Women’s Day became Australia’s day. 

Healy stole the show, demoralising the Indian bowlers from ball one by blitzing an outrageous 75 from just 39 balls that included 7 x 4s and 5 x 6s. Mooney played second fiddle throughout the pair’s 115-run opening partnership, but she too kicked into gear after Healy departed, ending unbeaten on 78* as Australia posted 184/4. 

The imposing total always looked like being too much and, after just two overs, most people’s suspicions were confirmed. India slumped to 8/2 with the in-form Verma and Jemimiah Rodrigues falling cheaply, while concussion meant Taniya Bhatia was forced to retire hurt, effectively leaving them three wickets down. India’s dream was long gone, and the rest of the evening belonged to a rampant Australia, who put a show on in front of their adoring home crowd. 

Once upon a time, Ellyse Perry’s injury would have derailed this Aussie side, but not on this occasion. Jess Jonassen was brilliant value for her 3/20, while Shutt was magnificent once again. The enforcer up front and a wonderful death bowler, the 27-year-old finished with outstanding figures of 4/18, including the match-winning wicket, as India were skittled for 99. Australia, jubilant. India, disappointed. The Women’s T20 World Cup as a whole, a raging success. South Africa 2022 has some act to follow.

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